(The Sports Xchange) - As 3-pointers fell at historic rates through the first two rounds of the postseason, LeBron James’ message never changed: The Cleveland Cavaliers are not just a team of jump-shooters.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, James and the Cavaliers proved it. On a night when the Toronto Raptors did their best to take away the 3-point arc, the Cavs instead attacked the paint and stormed their way to a 115-84 victory Tuesday and a 1-0 series lead.
It was the most lopsided postseason win in Cavs history and marked their ninth victory in as many playoff games this year.
The Cavs are rolling, and James and Kyrie Irving are a big reason why.
James scored 24 points and Irving had 27 as the Cavs made just seven 3-pointers but shot 55.4 percent and scored 56 points in the paint.
“Tonight they wanted us to be in the paint,” James said. “We tried to take advantage of that. I keep telling you we’re not a jump-shooting team. We’re a balanced team. We’re able to do whatever the game dictates, and we’re able to adjust to that.”
Kevin Love had 14 points and four rebounds, his first game in this postseason without a double-double. The Cavs rolled anyway, becoming the first team to win their first nine postseason games since the 2012 San Antonio Spurs, who won their first 10 before losing four straight to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
DeMar DeRozan scored 18 points for the Raptors, but only six after the first quarter. Fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry scored eight points on a tough 4-of-14 shooting night after scoring a career-high 43 against the Cavs in a February victory at Air Canada Centre. Neither Lowry nor DeRozan attempted a free throw Tuesday.
“We’ve got to come out of the gate with that mindset, being aggressive like we usually do,” Lowry said. “I think we didn’t try to do that until later on in the game.”
After sweeping through the first two rounds of the playoffs by setting records with their 3-point shooting, the Cavs instead attacked the heart of the Raptors’ defense.
Each of James’ first nine baskets came near the restricted area. Cleveland went inside after averaging nearly 17 3-pointers per game through the first two playoff rounds.
The Raptors scored the game’s first seven points, although the Cavs had the lead within about seven minutes. Cleveland extended it to double figures within the first two minutes of the second quarter and rolled the rest of the night. The Cavs led by as many as 35 in the fourth quarter.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey thought the defensive rotations broke down once the Raptors denied the Cavs 3-point looks.
“We’ve got to continue to keep those (3-pointers) down, work to keep those down, and also at the same time make sure we understand and be disciplined as far as how we take away their roll guy,” Casey said. “Because I thought that hurt us, especially in the second quarter.”
The sweeps in each of the first two rounds meant the Cavs played just eight games in the last 33 days, while the Raptors were stretched to seven games in each of their first two series. All the time off has done little to disrupt Cleveland’s rhythm.
The Cavs beat the Atlanta Hawks by double figures in each of the first three games following an eight-day layoff, and nine days between games certainly didn’t bother them Tuesday.
The Raptors have been in this position before. They have now lost the first game in each of their three series, although they fought back to win the first two. This will be their toughest test yet.
“I thought they were quicker than us tonight, and the reasons are not important. It’s not an excuse,” Casey said. “It’s one game. But they were the quicker team tonight, and we’ve got to make adjustments of how we want to combat that quickness.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford